The Efficient Kitchen: Streamlining My Kitchen

The home-maker will then have time to devote to the other side of life, to the things that bring inspiration and joy and peace into this little circle of love which we are proud to call “our home.”

Georgie Boynton Child on the science of homemaking in “The Efficient Kitchen”

As a stay-at-home mom and a homemaker, I find that a good portion of my time is spent in the kitchen, be it cooking, cleaning, or planning. It is not lost on me how important it is to have a warm and welcoming kitchen as well as one that is well managed. Several months ago I was introduced to the book The Efficient Kitchen by Georgie Boynton Child (1914) after watching this video from Paige at the Farmhouse Vernacular YouTube channel. This manual was intended “as a book of practical directions showing how to so build new kitchens or transform old ones that the work of the home may be accomplished with a sense of master, instead of remaining the hopeless problem it has become” in the early 20th century.

Georgie Boynton Child, from a publication 1914

Georgie Boynton Child was an American efficiency expert who took great care in assisting the homemaker, be it a man or a woman, to run an efficient and economical home , no matter what their household income level may be, so they could spend time away from the “villain kitchen vassalage,” and devote their time to the things that bring inspiration and joy to them and their family. It amazes me that the domestic issues we face today were very much in the forefront of the issues homemakers well over a century ago.

Efficiency: The Buzzword of the 20th Century

Like today, the early 20th century had its own fashionable phrases that floated about. Child opens her first chapter examining how “some such dim aura of mystification clings round the wonderful new word Efficiency.” Even to this day, the term ‘efficient’ or ‘efficiency’ is in the zeitgeist of our industries, but do we truly know what it means to be efficient?

Child continues with her examination of the buzzword:

How lightly it is bandied from mouth to mouth! What magical things it is said to do! … Again it is brandished over our heads as a club. We are to be Efficient, and to make our kitchens Efficient. And then, of course, our troubles will be at an end. But what has efficiency actually to do with us? How do we get it? What do we do with it? After all, exactly … what is Efficiency?

Georgie Boynton Child asking the hard questions in her opening paragraph of Chapter 1

And to our great relief, she provides what she considers to be the clearest definition from her colleague Mr. Charles Barnard, a participant in the Housekeeping Experiment Station at Darien, CT.

Efficiency has meant in the past the power to produce results. It now properly means much more. It means power to produce the best results at the lowest cost of time, labor, and materials.

Mr. Charles Barnard being quoted in “The Efficient Kitchen”

Now that we have a firm understanding of what Efficiency is, we can move on to how to implement it in your own kitchen through scientific grouping.

Image from The Efficient Kitchen

Scientific Grouping

A most efficient means of conserving the worker’s time and strength is found in the new scientific method of grouping the various utensils and materials, not according to kind, but according to the uses they serve.

Georgie Boynton Child defining the term Scientific Grouping

I quickly became aware of the inefficiencies of my own kitchen after reading Child’s example in her third chapter on executing the simple task of making tea. (Chapter 3, which is my focus for this post, is dedicated to understanding and implementing scientific grouping.) In this enlightening example, she goes through the motions of making tea and lists out the ways labor has been wasted using the ‘old way of getting them accomplished, as a result of the wrong grouping method.’ The ‘wrong grouping method’ was an observation of how most kitchens were arranged, grouping items together because they are the same. For example, the groceries are kept together in one cabinet, cooking utensils in another area, and service dishes in the dining room. Then she immediately compares how the same task was performed using ‘scientific grouping,’ saving time and labor because all of the equipment and ingredients were grouped together based upon their use.

After this example, she makes another highlighting the daily task of cutting up the bread, and again labor is wasted using the old method versus the new. In the end she quotes, “It is no exaggeration to say that at least two hours a day are lost in the average kitchen by improper grouping of supplies and utensils.’

I know these examples don’t sound exciting or groundbreaking or even relevant to how we work in our kitchens today, but try inserting one of your own daily tasks in place of making tea or cutting bread. What are the steps you take to accomplish the task you do several times a day? Do you find yourself traipsing about the kitchen gathering up all of the materials required to make your meals for the day? Along with the extra steps, do you find yourself stretching up high or crouching down low to pick up items you use on a daily basis?

Now imagine having everything you need to bake a cake (or insert your own task) at hand without having to waste your movements gathering up all the ingredients and equipment. It may not seem like you’ve saved yourself much time and energy, but these little bits do add up and before you know it you may have an hour or so to spend outside of your kitchen.

Georgie Boynton Child was extremely practical when she wrote her manual for she included an easy to follow list of what items should be grouped together and where they should be placed in your kitchen. Below is a screenshot of her list.

From The Efficient Kitchen by Georgie Boynton Child

Everything in the lists mentioned above may or may not apply to your current kitchen. However, I think it is an excellent jumping-off point for grouping the items in your kitchen for the specific tasks you do.

Principles of Kitchen Efficiency

Child concludes this chapter with some general rules to keep in mind when implementing scientific grouping. She states that ‘they are based on the same idea of conserving time and strength, and thus enabling the worker to concentrate on constructive work all her best energy.’ Again, use what you like from the following list as it applies to your kitchen.

  1. Keep nothing in the kitchen that is not used every day.
  2. Things used oftenest should be most conveniently near at hand.
  3. Grouping of utensils and supplies should be governed by the principle of Coordination of Processes.
  4. Have narrow shelves with one row of things on each.
  5. Use open shelves rather than cupboards and closed closets. (An exception to this rule must be made where a coal range is used, and the kitchen is necessarily dusty.
  6. Shelves should be at a convenient height, none lower than 12 inches nor higher than can be easily reached.
  7. Nothing should be permitted to rest on the floor. This saves bending over, and facilitates cleaning the kitchen floor.
  8. Have nothing in the kitchen that is not easy to keep clean.
  9. Fixed equipment should be placed where the light is good.
  10. Floor covering should be easy to keep clean and pleasant for the feet to rest on.
  11. Small utensils should be suspended from hooks and cup-hooks fastened to the wall or the edge of shelves.
  12. Sink and work table should be at a convenient height for the worker.
  13. There should be a special place for each thing used in the kitchen.
A woman in her kitchen, early 20th century

Streamlining My Kitchen

At this point I have made a few changes to how I have grouped items in my own kitchen. I have moved the plates, bowls, and silverware to a cabinet and drawer next to the stove for easier serving of food. The empty drawer next to the sink that was once home to the silverware is now where dishcloths and kitchen towels are kept. This idea was taken straight from the book, “If possible have a drawer near sink where may be kept a supply of kitchen towels, wash cloths, and cheese-cloth for straining.”

The final adjustment I made was grouping all of my baking supplies into a cabinet over a stretch of countertop. Below the countertop is a cabinet that houses the Kitchen Aide, measuring tools, cupcake tin, mixing bowls and other equipment. I believe this has been the most significant improvement because I’m no longer making several round around the kitchen to get ready to bake a simple batch of cookies.

And so, dear reader, we have come to the closing of this rather lengthy post. I hope you are able to take some of these principles and apply even just a dash of Efficiency to your own kitchen, allowing you to be productive in the kitchen while allowing you more leisure time unshackled to the ‘villain kitchen vassalage.’

I would love to hear how you were able to streamline your own kitchen in the comments below!


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